Stationed at the Cross by Patrick Henry Reardon

Stationed at the Cross

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that a Roman “centurion” stood near the cross and witnessed the death of Jesus. Mark is the only one to use here the military expression kentyrion (15:39,44,45), which is in fact transliterated from the Latin centurio (as earlier in Polybius 6.24.5). Indeed, this Latin word does not appear in the New Testament except in Mark, whose Gospel, according to the earliest testimonies, was written at Rome and for the Romans. To describe this same military officer, Matthew uses the corresponding Greek word hekatontarchos, literally a “commander of a hundred” (27:54), and Luke the variant hekatontarches (23:47).

This centurion is quoted in response to the death of Jesus in all three of these Gospels, though the quotations are not identical. A close examination of the biblical text will show, in fact, that the variants themselves are significant, each of them conveying a meaning proper to the Gospel in which it appears. I write to undertake that examination.

According to Mark, the centurion near the cross, when he witnesses the death of Jesus, cries out, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” We note that this exclamation, which in form differs not at all from a Christian profession of faith, does not arise in response to any of the physical phenomena that accompany the death of Jesus. Although Mark at this point does refer to the rending of the temple veil (15:38), he records no extraordinary physical manifestation at the site of the cross, except for the three hours of darkness (15:33).

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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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